This small barrier island off Florida's Gulf Coast is small, but popular. Tourists flock here for the sparkling, crystal waters as well as the beauty of numerous wildlife refuges.
The Sanibel Island Lighthouse
Built in 1884 the lighthouse was constructed on the east end of the island to support a great need for a beacon for the ever increasing trade routes along Florida's Gulf Coast. After funding was granted from Congress in the amount of $50,000, it was officially lit in August of that same year. In order to function optimally the lighthouse was manned at all times. Two men would each take 12 hour shifts at a time. Their responsibilities were to keep oil pumping constantly so the light never goes out and to monitor the weights to keep the flash every 2 minutes consistent. By 1949 the lighthouse was automated leaving no need for 2 full time employees. In 1962 electricity was supplied leaving maintenance to a minimum. The city of Sanibel and it's residents have taken great lengths to keep the structure operating and properly preserved. Major renovation efforts took place in 2013 with the help of a Florida State Historic Preservation Grant. Also, just this year the dwellings for the lighthouse keepers were officially considered to be on the Sanibel Register of Historic Sites and Structures. While the area around the lighthouse is free to explore, the lighthouse itself is not open to the public. To access this gem, take Periwinkle Way all the way to the lighthouse parking lot and where you may leave your car for a mere $2 an hour.
J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
The barrier island of Sanibel is rich with a vast array of species and this is one of the best spots to observe the variety. Jay Norwood Darling was very passionate about preserving these 6,400 acres of natural habitat and its population of wild animals. He petitioned and convinced the president at the time, Harry Truman, to designate this area as the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945. To honor Norwood's efforts, it was officially renamed in 1967. To this day it is a part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the US. Not only is the collection of wildlife impressive, it is home to many threatened and endangered species. Before venturing out you'll want to stop by the Education Center on Sanibel Captiva Road to find field guides and nature books to help you navigate the ecosystem. Profits from the center go directly back to fund preservation efforts at the refuge. There many options for exploration including The Wildlife Drive, hiking trails, fishing, boating, kayak/canoeing, bicycling, and guided tours. This can't miss spot opens daily at 9am. Have your cameras ready to snap the alligators, river otters, marsh rabbits, turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, crabs, butterflies, and over 245 different species of birds.
Once you've worked up an appetite shelling, bird watching, or relaxing on the beach, Sanibel has some delicious restaurant options to satisfy any palate. If you are in the mood for a world class dining experience in a romantic setting we recommend The Mad Hatter. Owner Michelle and Kurt Jarvis have 50 years combined experience in hospitality and it shows. The Black Truffle Sea Scallops are melt-in-your-mouth tasty. You can pair any fresh dish with one of over 100 wines sourced from all over the globe.
If you are in the mood for something sweet after dinner, Love Boat Ice Cream is a MUST. Since 1967, Love Boat has been churning out Florida's finest selection of home made ice cream, sorbet, and yogurt. With flavors like Chocolate Almond, Red Raspberry Cheesecake, and Coffee Toffee as well as sugar free and fat free options there is something to delight everyone's taste buds.
Need to fuel up before an exciting day of deep sea fishing? Over Easy Cafe should do the trick. Opening every morning at 7am the wide selection of breakfast options is dizzying. Pancakes, omelets, french toast, benny's (short for eggs benedict), scramblers, and more will start you out on the right foot. Make sure you don't let your vacation sleep schedule sabotage your opportunity to dine; They only stay open till 3pm.
Nothing says Florida island quite like Rum does. For friendly drinks, live music, and an awesome patio head to Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grille. No need to dress to impress; This casual beach bar gladly welcomes flip-flops and shorts. If you are expecting run of the mill bar food, you will be in for a surprise. The menu is carefully cultivated with sauces and spices while sourcing fresh seafood for unbelievable flavors. And we can't forget the Rum! From expert to neophyte they've got a taste to suit anyone including Rum flights for those that can't decide on just one.
Pack Your Bags
Now that you are ready to vacation in this Florida paradise let us help you book your trip. The Sundial Beach Resort & Spa is a centerpiece of this unique barrier island with an excellent offer exclusively for AAA Carolinas. It includes 4 nights starting at $528 in a One Bedroom Island View Residence at this luxury resort. Call 1-800-444-8691 to start planning today or visit one of our branch locations to speak with an agent in person.